7 May 2011
On being a mother – and still learning
I’m a mother of five. That seems to be the single most defining characteristic I own: more often than not, when I’m introduced by a friend to someone new, the “mother of five” bit will pop up, sooner rather than later. And it used to annoy me, especially when I was younger (and ‘only’ a mother of four) and would rather have been described as a successful professional or a great friend or whatever it is that people are introduced as.
One or two generations ago, the fact that I have five children wouldn’t have raised a single eyebrow. Nowadays, it elicits all sorts of comments, from the supposedly-funny-but-actually-offensive “don’t you own a television, then?” to compliments on contributing to the overpopulation of Mother Earth. Every once in a while, someone will actually say it’s admirable that someone would still have the courage to try to raise five children in nowadays’ society.
The thing is, if someone had told me, twenty years ago, that I would have five kids, I’d shown them the way to the psychiatric asylum. It was never some kind of plan – it was never actually something I’d ever spent a thought on. And now I look back and I wonder how the hell I managed to survive, especially the early years, with four children over a 5-year span.
There were moments when I was tempted to just walk out on the bunch of them. There were moments when I felt like throwing the lot out of the window. There were moments when I felt like screaming until somehow, mercifully, magically, they would just vanish into thin air and I’d wake up from the nightmare.
I’ve had to lower almost all of my standards to the level of an underground train station. I’ve had to accept that my house would not look tidy and clean for many, many years; I’ve had to review all of the principles I defended on education, on authority, on discipline.
I’ve spent countless nights without sleep. I’ve missed out on parties, on holidays abroad, on time for myself… on time for everyone else outside of the nursery, I’m afraid.
It has become far too common to say that the birth of a child is a life-changing event. I’m sure it’s true for many mothers (and fathers!) who experience some sort of epiphany when they hold their newborn baby for the first time. I’m sorry but I’ve tried and tried and tried again but it never worked out that way for me. The most intense feeling that my newborns provoked in me was a mixture of curiosity and dread.
What would eventually change my life was the process of raising them. Day after day, slowly but surely, raising my children transformed me. As much as I have tried to teach them, they have taught me so much more. They have taught me precious lessons in tolerance, in compassion, in humanity. It was through my children that I have discovered my true priorities. It was through my children that I have experienced my greatest failures and found my most amazing capacities. And above everything else, they have shown unconditional love when I failed them… because mothers make mistakes, too.
Love is blind, they say: we love our children blindly, and they have this incredible ability to love us back without boundaries. Yet, personally, I think a mother’s love is anything but blind. Loving our children consists of looking at them with our eyes wide open, knowing them better than anyone else, and being able to love them more than our own lives, despite (and so often precisely because of) all that we see.
My journey of twenty years through motherhood has been an imperfect adventure at best. I look back and I try to relive those moments when I held my firstborn for the first time. I discover that I’m still not over that initial feeling of curiosity and dread. My friends think that I’m some kind of super-mom, that I’ve got all the answers by now… they’d be surprised if they knew how I’m actually still trying, learning, changing.
(now they do)
Tomorrow is Mothers’ Day in many countries. Not many mothers have to deal with four or five children, but I am sure that bringing up just one can be as hard as raising a bunch of them. Not many mothers are lucky enough to enjoy the help of a family network like I did, which is a factor not only of logistical assistance, but just as importantly, of emotional and psychological support. So many mothers struggle to balance work and family; to make ends meet every month. So many mothers have to watch over a sick son or daughter; so many have to protect their child from an abusive partner.
And still, every time a child is born, there is hope for humanity.
To all Mothers, everywhere, a heartfelt wish of a wonderful Sunday – and for your children’s sake, take good care of yourselves!